Questions for Answers

In Mark 2, Jesus confounds the Scribes, and Pharisees and others, by answering their questions with questions. Their curiosity at His behavior and deeds is shallow and critical, and rather than answering their superficial inquiries, He responds by asking questions back to penetrate the surface of their prejudices, to unearth their sinister motives, to expose their self-righteousness. Not only does He know all, but He does not waste any opportunity to act according to His redemptive purposes. Jesus persists to awaken deeper thought and loftier living, to exchange our human perspective for His high and holy one.

“’Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, ‘Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise, take up your bed and walk”?’… People came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?’… And the Pharisees were saying to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?’”

Bahamas from the sky, perspective

There is nothing like a question to make us stop, consider, and dig a bit in order to reply. Jesus doesn’t spoon-feed His own, but knows that what we uncover and discover ourselves has greater effect and bears more meaning that what is forced upon us. After stirring their thinking, what were His concluding statements? The Son of Man has authority to forgive sins, New wine is for fresh wineskins, The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. In other words, ‘I am the Lord and you are not, and I’ve come to bring salvation and healing and rest and to make all things new.’ Why would we choose to nitpick and argue and condescend when such a Savior comes to offer so much to us, and others?

O God, peel away the superficiality of my thoughts and desires. Call me to deeper compassion, understanding, mercy, desire, prayer, that I, with amazement, say, “I never saw anything like this!”

A Tragic (Glorious) Death

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:54-60

The stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 always brings me to tears. This humble, reputable, brave, wise, Spirit-filled man (6:3,5,8) has just orated a beautiful account of the God of glory and His unfolding plan for Israel from Abraham to the Righteous One, Jesus, to the High Priest and his council. But the truth enraged them, so, to eliminate the conviction it bore, they killed the messenger. That part of the story is enough to evoke emotion over their hardness of heart and catch-your-breath-grief at the horrifying injustice.

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But it is the remarkable description of Stephen and Jesus that gets to me most. Turning his eyes from the shouting, frenzied men moments from murdering him, Stephen gazes upward (a gaze is peaceful, lingering) and sees the glory of God, and Jesus standing at His right hand! We know the risen, glorified Jesus is seated at God’s right hand (Luke 22:69; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 8:1), so the image of His standing to receive His servant Stephen is moving. Jesus, the Gentleman. Jesus, the Coach urging on His charge. Jesus, the Fan cheering His hero across the finish line. Jesus, the Father welcoming home His beloved child with open arms. Stephen, while entangled in the dark rage and intense pain of being dragged and stoned, is caught up in the heavenlies. God unveils for us the beauty of tragic death for those in Christ.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4  

Heavenly Lord, whatever the madding opposition, the rage of disease or injustice or sorrow or loneliness or persecution, wherever the darkness, Your glory shines. And You are near. Keep me gazing upward, entrusting my spirit to You.

Watching in the Fog

“My King and my God, to you do I pray. O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy templeLead me, O Lord, make your way straight before me.” Psalm 5:2-3,7-8

Every morning on the northern California coast is foggy. Looking out the window I see only the closest foliage has crisp edges, the layers of view beyond are misted by the damp, moving cloud that envelops us. As the day widens, the sun-that-was-always-there dissolves the shroud, unveiling the magnificent expanse of sky and coastline, opening my view from dim to the eternal.

When I want to see beyond here and now, my Lord often says, “Look at Me.” Fog is a reminder that He knows and makes my way, and there are things I am not yet to know but with which I am to trust Him. As I enter His house and look at His face, more and more of Him becomes clear, and as I wait and watch, His light brings into focus, layer by layer, what lies ahead and where He is leading. His very presence lifts the veil of doubt, confusion, even fear, lethargy.

Father, in the wispy cloud of each new day, focus my eyes up close on You. In Your light, I see light.  Keep me steadfast and watchful in prayer, walking in the light of Your face. (Psalm 36:9; Colossians 4:2; Psalm 89:16)

The Secret Things

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Deuteronomy 29:29

God’s word is complete, and reveals all that is necessary for us to know Him and to live for Him. He assures us here that there are secrets for Him to know and understand, and that we never will. But there are also secrets He shares with His beloved children, to draw us close in intimacy with Him.

In His friendship with Abraham, the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord.He then reveled His planned righteous judgment on Sodom, resulting in one of the most beautiful intercessory prayers of Scripture. Jesus says to His followers, “I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you,” and “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” All that God reveals is for our instruction, and what He chooses to remain secret is for our instruction also–to accept, to marvel at, and to teach us endurance in faith. (Genesis 18:17-19; John 15:15; Matthew 13:11)

 

God knows what He is doing. When He doesn’t answer my ‘why?’s I can trust He has good, redemptive, sanctifying, God-glorifying reason. There is an element to worship and a motivation for discovery that is enhanced by mystery and wonder.

Father, teach me to seek Your treasures, to ‘call to You so You answer me, and tell me great and hidden things that I have not known.’ And when You choose to keep silent, keep me pressing on to know You, the Sovereign Author of the secret things. Teach me to follow You more closely and know You more deeply as the One Who is good and does good, to magnify and exalt You for Your immeasurable greatness I will never comprehend.  May I trust as the psalmist, O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul.” “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Jeremiah 33:3; Psalm 119:68; 131:1-2; Romans 11:33)

One Generation to the Next

“And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”Joseph died, being 110 years old, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Joshua 2:7-8,10; Genesis 50:26: Exodus 1:6-8

I had the overwhelming delight a few years ago of being given hand-written letters of correspondence between my grandparents and a couple whose library was being catalogued at a nearby seminary. Since my father’s mother had died before I was born, this was a treasure trove of her handwriting, her thoughts, her heart, her expression, that I will always cherish. One letter that especially moved me was written a month or so before my father, second of four, and only son, left to travel across the country to college.

Grandmother's letter 1

What is it that causes a whole generation to fall away from the Lord? It is hard to comprehend. Do we become slack in telling? Lethargic in living? Slothful in passion, zeal, compassion, generosity? Do we stop investing our waning energy in others and take an ‘I-deserve-it’ rest? Romans 12 instructs: Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” It is imperative that my generation not let up!

God has chosen us to pass on His truth and the stories of what He has done. While I cannot force another’s choice or determine how they orient their lives, I must, compelled by the love of Christ, offer the sweet fruit of a life lived for Jesus and tell His mighty deeds of grace and redemption. I must also pray. There comes a time when “our part is done, and they are, heavenly speaking, on their own,” yet I am responsible for my part until that day. (Genesis 18:19)

Lord, keep Your words on my heart and lips, keep me faithful to speak of You when I sit in my house and walk by the way, when I lie down and when I rise. May I zealously tell the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done, teaching our children, that the next generation might know God’s testimonies, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Psalm 78:4-7)

 

Full Immersion

“And God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came out from it. And when he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore the name of it was called En-hakkore; it is at Lehi to this day.” [En-hakkore means ‘the spring of him who called’] Judges 15:19

Hydrangeas need water (‘hydra’ means water) and drink it in through stem and petal. My recent lovely arrangement drooped after a day, but after spending a night submerged in a full sink, beautifully revived. It seemed miraculous–yet it is a gracious picture of Who our Savior is and how the Living Water restores and revives so we can fully live. “Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” What is thirsty He satisfies, what is weary He energizes, what is barren He makes fruitful, what is wounded He heals, what is dead He resurrects, and all this for His glory and purposes. Because He was weary, thirsty, stripped, wounded, and crucified for us, He gave new and vibrant life for us to live for Him, and others. (John 7:37;10:10; Matthew 11:28; Isaiah 53:4-5)

Samson went on, in Judges, to rescue Israel. All Jesus revives in me is not for my own benefit and pleasure, to spend on what I determine and prefer, but for His sake and kingdom purposes. The blossoms He revives, the gifts and enabling He gives, declare His beauty and are to be enjoyed by many. Full immersion in Him gives vitality so I can be fully immersed in what He has for me to do. Do not neglect the gift you have. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, [‘be in them’] so that all may see your progress.” “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (1 Timothy 4:14-15; Ephesians 2:10)

Lord, when I tire, when I lose direction and zeal, when I list toward preferring myself and my plans over Yours, dunk me again in You and refresh my spirit. Fill me with new vigor to stay fully immersed in Your holy and eternal work. May You receive all the glory.

 

Occupied with the Word

“After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.” Acts 18:1,5 

Paul, staying with Aquila and his wife Priscilla, worked with them for 18 months in their tent making trade, but “was occupied with the word.” Through this chapter we learn that Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade,” taught the word of God and saw people believe and be baptized, reasoned in the synagogue at Ephesus, sailed to Caesarea where he greeted the church, went down to Antioch to teach, traveled from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia strengthening all the disciples.” No matter his occupation, he was occupied with God’s word, and seized every opportunity to discuss, reason, speak, teach the word that had transformed him and gave life to all who would believe. (Acts 9:1-22)

What occupies my hours, my calendar, my energy, my affections, my thoughts, my heart? Do I define myself by my occupation for which I am paid or in which I volunteer? Work is what I might do, but if who I am is a child of God, then I should be occupied with His word–reading it, studying it, meditating on it, applying it, memorizing it, and sharing it however and wherever my Lord leads. It is this occupation that fuels all others.

Father, keep me absorbed and engaged in Your word, no matter where I am or what job is before me. May occupation with Your holy and powerful and living word inform all I think and say and do.